To be honest, what started me thinking on how you count coins was reading about sunken treasure. Adventurers never have to worry about these things, do they? They come upon a sunken treasure or a dragon’s hoard, and they just shovel coins into their back packs (or their extra-dimensional bags). They know almost immediately how many coins they have. If they worry about anything, it is if they have enough encumbrance to lift everything and carry it back home. No one thinks about counting it.
The point today isn’t really about counting it; it’s about finding it. When the ship goes down in a hurricane, thousands of gold coins go spilling into the sand. Spilling into the sand over the course of a quarter mile or so. How much time do the adventurers spend searching for coins? How much time can they afford to spend? If the coins are underwater (as in our sunken treasure example), do they have enough breath to gather them all? The coins are several inches deep in the sand. How do you find them all? Can you filter them? Do you take the sand and water into your extra-dimensional thingie?
I have a practical solution. When I set up something like this, where it is impractical to believe that the party can actually gather up all the treasure, I put time limits on it. If the treasure is spread out like this, I might say that in the first hour of searching, they find 500 gold coins. In the second hour, they find 200gc. Third hour, 75sc. Fourth hour, 25. Fifth hour, 0, unless they shift their search pattern to increase the range they are searching. In that case they find 20 more in hours five through ten. Hour 11 and maybe +5. Now all these are controlled by searching and Senses skills, so the results won’t look as smooth as what you see here. Maybe in total there are 1,000gc, of which you find 800gc in three hours, but have to make successful Senses tasks to find the other 200 and you’re only finding 5 per hour. Is it worth it? Is it worth 40+ hours to make an extra 200 coins? Maybe not.
After a few hours of missing Senses tasks, the party may assume they are done. That will teach the gold farmers to stop worrying only about how much damage they can do and start thinking about “worthless” skills like Senses. Adventurers need to be more than just killing machines; they need to be explorers.
So what else works? The same type of idea can control coins in a dragon’s hoard (built on gravel or with a cracked “ground” surface), finding gold coins lost in a mound of copper coins, gem stones (raw) in a pile of rubble, diamonds in a pile of broken crystal, just about anything on the floor of a leaf covered forest, mink pelts in a pile of rat skins, and on and on and on. Don’t think of it as punishing the players; think of it as rewarding the good finders.